Tuesday, February 23, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup Feb 23: School funding in PA: We have a plan; now we need action

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup February 23, 2016:
School funding in Pennsylvania: We have a plan; now we need action

RSVP Today for EPLC’s Education Policy Forum Series on Governor Wolf’s 2016-17 State Budget Proposal in Pittsburgh
Thursday, February 25, 2016 - Pittsburgh

A warning to college profs from a high school teacher
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss February 9, 2013  
For more than a decade now we have heard that the high-stakes testing obsession in K-12 education that began with the enactment of No Child Left Behind 11 years ago has resulted in high school graduates who don’t think as analytically or as broadly as they should because so much emphasis has been placed on passing standardized tests. Here, an award-winning high school teacher who just retired, Kenneth Bernstein, warns college professors what they are up against. Bernstein, who lives near Washington, D.C. serves as a peer reviewer for educational journals and publishers, and he is nationally known as the blogger “teacherken.” His e-mail address is kber@earthlink.net. This appeared in Academe, the journal of the American Association of University Professors.
By Kenneth Bernstein
You are a college professor.
I have just retired as a high school teacher.
I have some bad news for you. In case you do not already see what is happening, I want to warn you of what to expect from the students who will be arriving in your classroom, even if you teach in a highly selective institution.

PA must do its share to fund schools
Opinion by Susan Spicka Chambersburg Public Opinion 10:13 a.m. EST February 22, 2016
Susan Spicka is Interim Director, Education Voters of PA
Pennsylvania is at a crossroads and state lawmakers will soon be choosing the path the Commonwealth will follow. Lawmakers who believe our children and communities need and deserve strong schools must do the difficult job of governing and ensure that there is sufficient, new, recurring revenue in the state budget both to close the $2 billion deficit and to invest additional state money into education. Our children and communities will pay a steep price if they don’t.  Recent articles and editorials in the Public Opinion have clearly demonstrated that our area lawmakers and Governor Wolf have sharply different visions for the future of the Commonwealth and for how our state government should deal with an unfinished 2015-2016 budget and a very real $2 billion budget deficit in the 2016-2017 budget.  What has been lost in the political posturing and talking points coming out of Harrisburg, however, is a genuine, honest conversation about the appropriate role our state government should play in funding our schools and the impact Harrisburg’s budget decisions have on our children and our communities.

School funding in Pennsylvania: We have a plan; now we need action
Lancaster Online Editorial by LNP Editorial Board February 22, 2016
THE ISSUE: Pennsylvania, for more than 25 years, has been one of the few states without a reliable school funding formula, leaving school districts to set their annual budgets without knowing how much funding they would receive. Last year, the state’s Basic Education Funding Commission offered a bipartisan proposal for an equitable funding plan. Nearly nine months later, the formula hasn’t been implemented.
Frustration from educators, parents and taxpayers over the current school funding system is skyrocketing.  In an LNP op-ed published a year ago, Martin Hudacs, now the newly appointed acting Manheim Township superintendent, described the “broken” system as one that “lacks consistency, predictability, sustainability, adequacy and fairness.”  That’s about right.  Thankfully, three months later, lawmakers made a crucial step in the right direction, as the 15-member Basic Education Funding Commission — including Lancaster’s own Republican state Sen. Lloyd Smucker, Democratic Rep. Mike Sturla and Education Secretary Pedro Rivera — proposed a solution: a funding formula based on number of students, with a variety of student- and district-based factors, such as the number of impoverished students and the district’s size.  The proposal was lauded by the LNP Editorial Board then and still is today.  “It’s a sound and transparent formula, and we hope the General Assembly passes it as part of the budget process this summer,” we said last year.  As we hoped, Smucker authored the proposal into Senate Bill 910 and later attached it to the state budget.  But that’s where it gets messy.

When it comes to educating kids, state is tragically irresponsible
Philly Daily News Opinion Updated: FEBRUARY 22, 2016 — 3:01 AM EST
A number of districts - Philadelphia included - are not sure they can keep the schools open until June.
YOU ARE a small-business owner who depends heavily on an influx of orders and money from a large customer.  The customer used to be reliable, but no more. A few years ago, he suddenly cut back on his orders, leaving you with smaller profits. Then, he decided to delay payments and you had to get loans to tide you over.  Lately, he's become more erratic. He won't let you know how much he intends to order or when. In exchange for a year's worth of your product, he only makes partial payments - and won't return your calls when you try to find out when the rest of the money will arrive.  What do you do? As a business owner, you begin to pull your hair out - or you might even have to close your business. You can't take out more loans and you are in the red.  In a nutshell, that is the situation facing Pennsylvania's 500 public school districts. Their big customer is the state, which lays out more than $10 billion in aid to schools each year.
A free public education is mandated by the state Constitution, and the state is supposed to help pay for it. But it has become erratic.

Pennsylvania state budget hearings open Monday, and it feels like relationship counseling
Penn Live By Charles Thompson | cthompson@pennlive.com  Email the author | Follow on Twitter  on February 22, 2016 at 7:39 PM, updated February 22, 2016 at 9:48 PM
Pennsylvania Budget Secretary Randy Albright's marathon appearance before the Senate Appropriations Committee Monday probably could have used a good relationship counselor.
Looming over the five-and-a-half hours of state budget discussion was the empty memory of the agreement many of the senators and Gov. Tom Wolf, Albright's boss, thought they had reached in mid-December.  And it very much made this kick-off to the state's annual cycle of budget hearings feel like the suit-and-tie version of a Taylor Swift break-up song.

“All told, Wolf is seeking a two-year spending increase of $4.3 billion, or 14 percent, to $33.3 billion from the last full-year, enacted budget.  Wolf wants the extra spending to close a long-term deficit that has damaged Pennsylvania's credit rating and to boost aid to public school systems that have among the nation's biggest funding gaps between wealthy and poor districts. Big increases for pension obligations, human services and prisons are also helping drive the increase.”
Gov. Tom Wolf's administration is defending his $33.3 billion budget proposal to the Republican-controlled Legislature
By MARC LEVY Published: 2/22/16 4:45 pm EST - Updated: 2/22/16 4:46 pm EST
HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — Gov. Tom Wolf's administration began its defense of a $33.3 billion budget proposal Monday, with the Democrat confronting Pennsylvania government's worst budget gridlock in decades and a Republican-controlled Legislature that is hostile to the election-year tax increase he wants.  Republicans faced off with Wolf's budget secretary, Randy Albright, at the first Senate Appropriations Committee hearing over Wolf's warnings of local tax increases and steep school layoffs if lawmakers choose to close a $2 billion-plus projected deficit by spending cuts alone.  "That's a nice math game, but come on," Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre.  Corman pointed out that Republicans had backed increased aid for schools before Wolf vetoed billions in education aid, and that the rate of school property tax increases has slowed in recent years.  Albright responded that Wolf's warnings are both accurate and realistic, citing the impact of a deep cut in state aid to schools in 2011.
"It's not rhetoric, it's math," Albright responded to Corman.

Start of budget hearings puts lawmakers in “uncharted territory”
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Monday, February 22, 2016
The House and Senate Monday started their three-week-long budget hearing process, and right out the gate it was apparent the deep divides and differing views on budgeting that led to the ongoing FY 2015-2016 budget impasse remain as eyes turn toward the next fiscal year’s spending plan.  Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) began that committee’s process by noting the strange nature lawmakers find themselves.  “We’re going to embark over the next three weeks on somewhat of an unusual and uncustomary process, reviewing components of spending plans over essentially two fiscal years,” he said. “The governor is proposing his 16-17 spending plan in somewhat of a modified process.”  He said while the committee will focus on the FY 2016-2017 budget proposal, the governor has made that proposal assuming a sizable supplemental appropriation is enacted, so a look at that supplemental increase is warranted.

House GOP launches effort to uncover savings in state government
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | jmurphy@pennlive.com  Email the author | Follow on Twitter on February 22, 2016 at 6:47 PM
House Republicans are the latest to launch a crusade to ferret out waste in state government and to identify inefficiencies.  Through a initiative called PennSAVE (that stands for savings, accountability, value, and efficiency), a House Majority Policy subcommittee plans to research potential cost-saving measures and is inviting state employees and taxpayers to share their ideas for reducing waste.  The launching of this effort coincides with this week's start of departmental budget hearings and policy committee Chairman Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, said he expects to issue an update on the group's work in a couple months.  "The state government budget process should begin not with conversations about spending and higher taxes but by first looking for ways to reduce government waste and cut unnecessary costs," Benninghoff said. "That should be step No. 1 every time."  Among the areas that the group will look include the agency and program consolidation, unaddressed audit findings identified by the Auditor General's office, government procurement policies and "corporate welfare," he said.  This initiative parallels other efforts underway to identify possible areas where savings might be found, including Gov. Tom Wolf's GO-TIME and a website Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York County, recently launched.

With current Pennsylvania budget unfinished, hearings for 2016-17 underway
Pennsylvania is operating under a partial state budget for the year that ends June 30.
By Karen Langley / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau February 23, 2016 12:00 AM
HARRISBURG — When budget hearings began Monday, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee set a ground rule: Members could ask one round of questions on the unfinished Pennsylvania state budget, but then they should move on to Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposals for the year to come.  Legislators are embarking on “somewhat of an unusual and uncustomary process” as they review state spending proposals for two fiscal years, Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, said as the House and Senate began three weeks of appropriations hearings.  Pennsylvania is operating under a partial state budget for the year that ends June 30 after Mr. Wolf in December signed into law most of a Republican-supported spending plan but vetoed about half a year’s worth of funding for the main K-12 education line and for state prisons. He has said that he expected legislators to quickly move to complete the budget, but that hasn’t happened.

Lines drawn in the sand, Pa. budget process gets underway
Budget hearings got off to a testy start in Pennsylvania's Capitol as the Wolf administration defended the governor's spending proposal on Monday, the first day of three weeks of scheduled hearings.  The Capitol hasn't fully emerged from last year's budget stalemate over taxes and spending, but lawmakers are launching into this year's planning process, even if it's not clear how the Democratic governor and Republican-controlled Legislature can meet in the middle.  House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware, asked to keep the focus of questions on the next year's budget proposal — even as the current year's spending is unresolved.  "It is safe to say that we will discuss the '15-'16 budget in this room, and those discussions hopefully will continue, but I don't know if we're going to be able to come to any type of resolution," said Adolph.  s the Senate Appropriations Committee dug in, the back-and-forth quickly veered into decisions in budgets past.

Election might perpetuate state budget fiasco
Times Tribune BY ROBERT SWIFT Published: February 21, 2016
HARRISBURG — The long-running state budget fight is colliding with an election year in which many lawmakers seek re-election.  A look at the election calendar could be useful to determine when the budget fight will reach a climax or enter periods of limbo.  Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled Legislature are poles apart on the governor’s proposed $33.3 billion budget for fiscal 2016-17. They also have yet to agree on a complete budget for the current fiscal year.  The House and Senate appropriations committees will hold weeks of budget hearings starting on Monday, with agency chiefs appearing to answer questions about their spending priorities.  Under the partial, $24 billion budget in place, school districts, publicly supported universities and the corrections department only have a half-year worth of state funding covered.  This means the school districts most dependent upon state aid will have to seek bank loans starting in midspring if no deal is reached to complete the budget, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said last week.  The next important date on the election calendar is April 26, primary day when a handful of senators and House members will face challengers for renomination. The House and Senate are in recess from mid-April to early May to give members time to campaign. It’s unlikely that anybody on the ballot, facing opposition or not, will want to cast a controversial budget vote before April 26 that could boomerang against them.

First-year councilwoman bringing Philly school hearings to the streets
City Councilwoman and long-time Philly public school activist Helen Gym said that after an eye-opening hearing on school conditions, she will be seeking public input in a series of upcoming community meetings.
Metro by Sam Newhouse February 22, 2016
As part of the process of studying what services the School District of Philadelphia actually offers the city's children, City Councilwoman Helen Gym will be hosting three community meetings around Philly next month to get input from the public.  It's all part of a process the first-term councilwoman said is intended to help the District figure out its priorities while City Council prepares for budgeting season.  "We’ve gotten too abstract about funding and accountability. ... We’ve lost sight about what concretely we can do on a school district-wide level," Gym told Metro. "We need to drill down and be more specific and hold the district to their promises. We can unify our city and our school district around a common set of priorities and objectives."

Wolf's war on charters hurts our neediest students: Ken Kilpatrick
PennLive Op-Ed  By Ken Kilpatrick on February 22, 2016 at 2:00 PM, updated February 22, 2016 at 2:01 PM
Ken Kilpatrick is CEO of Sylvia Marketing & Public Relations, a consultancy that specializes in marketing services for public charter schools, private schools, and higher education.
Next year will mark the twentieth anniversary of the creation of Pennsylvania's Charter School Law.  However, if Gov Tom Wolf has his way, there will be little or perhaps nothing left to celebrate.   Since taking office, Wolf has locked his sights on charter schools, effectively declaring war on many of the Commonwealth's most vulnerable children.  During his first budget proposal, Wolf sought to slash public cyber charter school funding to a dollar amount that would make it impossible for a cyber to operate. Rather than studying what the real costs are to operate a cyber charter school, Wolf decided that choosing an arbitrary funding limit would be best.  That number was chosen based upon what it costs a certain Intermediate Unit to deliver a limited online program that does not come close to offering the comprehensive educational experience that a cyber charter school provides.   Wolf's war is not limited to cyber charter schools. He is seeking to destroy all charters.

Blogger note: In response to the charter marketing piece above I would offer this prior KEYSEC posting.  No PA cyber charter has achieved a passing PA School Performance Profile score of 70 in any year.  Additionally, most cybers never made AYP under No Child Left Behind during the period 2005 thru 2012.  The “Intermediate Unit program” cited happens to be the one that generally has the highest scores of any cyber in the state.
PA Ed Policy Roundup Feb 5: Walton Family Foundation, patron saints of charter school funding, backing off on cyber charter support

Huskey: Wolf’s clothing made from our tax dollars
By Stan Huskey, The Times Herald POSTED: 02/22/16, 2:00 AM EST
Making sure credit is given where credit is due is always in the back of my mind when I sit down to write about local happenings.  Giving criticism where criticism is due is just as important, and I’d like to think that I have no problem dishing out the disparaging remarks no matter the intended target.  I spent last week expounding on my complete and utter disbelief that our state legislature has but one job to do each year and they can’t even get that right.  As you know, I only have so many words for this column, and when it comes to our elected officials there never is enough words, but even so, I would be remiss if I didn’t continue last week’s rant with another.  This one being pointed squarely at the governor.  But before I do, a little back peddling is in order.  One of our local state legislators, Kate Harper, R-61st Dist., sent me a well-worded email last week to remind me that the General Assembly did indeed offer three budgets to the governor.  And he did sign one of them, that is, after he took a machete disguised as a pen to it, lopping off massive chunks of the spending bill that he did not like.

“Wolf has similar arrows in his quiver. Football is king in much of Pennsylvania, too, along with other sports. The prospect of losing a season would be more than some voters could bear. That might shake loose a few legislative votes as fans clamor for compromise and a return to the games.  Closing the state's liquor stores would surely get some voters beating a path to their legislators' doors. But this would make no economic sense. The state stores are profit centers and, since Pennsylvanians are unlikely to drink more to make up for lost time, that revenue would be lost forever.  There are services that, if closed, might hasten a budget deal. Social service agencies and parks make life better; it would be hard to lose them.  Closing public schools would affect everybody. Many parents struggle on the occasional snow day. Private school parents no longer would enjoy public school transportation.”
Pennsylvania should look to Louisiana for budget stalemate solution
Trib Live Opinion BY JOSEPH SABINO MISTICK | Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards are both Democrats trying to get their state's annual budgets approved by Republican legislatures. Wolf is approaching seven months without a budget. Edwards is just starting down that path.  Both states face huge deficits. Both governors have called for new taxes, arguing that there is no way to cut their way out of their states' financial quagmires. And both governors plan to improve education and other essential government services. But the similarity ends there.  “This crisis is not about politics at all. This is about math. Pennsylvania faces a $2 billion budget deficit,” Wolf said in his budget address. “That's not a Democratic fact or a Republican fact. It's just a fact.”  But Edwards, facing a $2 billion deficit next year, believes that facts alone will not carry the day. In his televised budget address last week, he bluntly called for new taxes. And he targeted the non-believing legislators, motivating them with a little promised pain.  Declaring that legislative inaction will lead to the cancellation of classes at the state's universities, Edwards said “many students will not be able to graduate, and student athletes across the state at those schools will be ineligible to play next semester.” Adding the kicker, he said, “That means you can say farewell to college football next fall.” 

Pa. lawmakers want audit of Wolf's spending as $37.5B spent in impasse
Trib Live BY BRAD BUMSTED  | Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, 10:57 a.m.
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf's administration has spent $37.5 billion since July 1, even though no state budget was in place for six months, and House and Senate leaders asked the state's fiscal watchdog to audit the spending.  Lawmakers authorized a budget of only $23.4 billion in December.  Wolf is spending as if he has “an open checkbook,” Senate Republican spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said Monday as lawmakers began budget hearings for the next fiscal year. “We're concerned about the checks and balances.”  The amount spent during the impasse was $24.7 billion. Since Jan. 1, the Wolf administration spent about $12.8 billion, according to the Treasury Department.  Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a York County Democrat like Wolf, said he is reviewing the audit request.

According to a September 2015 report from The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, 174 of 218 total Philadelphia public schools have a visual art teacher and 25 have an instrumental music teacher on site. 
Students reach out with arts education
Artists Striving to End Poverty will visit public schools once a week.
Temple News by Keeland Bowers 09 February 2016
Cindy Paul said she wants to bring the arts to a community that wouldn’t normally have access to them—public school students in Philadelphia.  According to a September 2015 report from The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, 174 of 218 total Philadelphia public schools have a visual art teacher and 25 have an instrumental music teacher on site.  To help combat what The Notebook calls Philadelphia public schools “starving for arts education,” Paul founded the Temple chapter of Artists Striving to End Poverty this semester.  ASTEP is an international nonprofit that uses performance and visual art to inspire underserved youth around the world. It’s the brainchild of Broadway Musical Director Mary-Mitchell Campbell and students from The Juilliard School. Temple’s chapter will specifically serve Philadelphia public school students.

Praise, concerns voiced at public hearing on Philly pre-K
Inquirer by Julia Terruso, Staff Writer. Updated: FEBRUARY 23, 2016 — 1:07 AM EST
The Mayor's Commission on Universal Pre-Kindergarten heard three hours of feedback Monday on its proposed plan for Philadelphia's 3- and 4-year olds.  More than 20 people spoke at the hearing at City Hall, commending the goal of universal pre-K while expressing concern over how to fund the initiative, ensure quality, and prevent the exclusion of smaller neighborhood providers.  Monday's hearing will be followed by 10 community meetings through March 7 and several roundtable discussions around the city through March 23.  The commission will issue a final report with its recommendations April 15.  Several teachers and principals testified that kids who attend pre-K go to school more prepared for kindergarten.  "When we build a house, we lay a strong foundation, and when we build from the bottom up, the house will remain sturdy for years," said Fatima Rogers, principal of Charles W. Henry Elementary School in West Mount Airy.  Rogers said kindergartners at her school who went to pre-K have less separation anxiety and tend to start reading earlier.

Erie schools to work with financial consultant
By Erica Erwin 814-870-1846 Erie Times-News February 23, 2016 12:42 AM
The Erie School District will ask a consulting firm to take a fresh look at the district's financial future.  Erie schools Superintendent Jay Badams on Monday said he will follow the suggestion of Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera and ask Public Financial Management, an independent financial consulting firm, to examine the district's finances.  Badams, district Chief Financial Officer Brian Polito, state Sen. Sean Wiley and state Rep. Pat Harkins met with Rivera in Harrisburg on Monday to discuss a recent analysis that shows the district facing a deficit of as much as $8.9 million in 2016-17.  The analysis also compares the district to others in Erie County and to similar districts statewide and, Badams and Polito say, shows the district is underfunded by the state.  The services of Public Financial Management are free to districts.  "We're eager to do that," Badams said after the meeting. "To have one more set of eyes review our finances and validate our study will be great."  Rivera also offered to have the Department of Education review Erie's financial situation in particular "to figure out if there's anything that can be done in the short term," Badams said.

Northampton Area will either tap into reserves or borrow to get through school year
Kevin Duffy Special to The Morning Call February 22, 2016
How will Northampton Area School District get through the school year?
With no end to the state budget impasse in sight, Northampton Area School District officials will soon decide whether to tap into their general fund to stay afloat until the end of the fiscal year or borrow against the tax revenue they hope will be generated eventually.  Finance Director Terry Leh told the school board Monday that a Tax Revenue Anticipation Note would have to be paid back by June 30 should the district decide to go that route.  And with no certainty that state dollars will be flowing into the district by then, school directors will soon be asked to choose between siphoning from the general fund or securing the loan.  "If the board decides to move in this direction it's a one-month process to do this," Leh said of applying for a loan.  Superintendent Joseph Kovalchik said the board will have to decide between drawing down from the $15 million pool of designated and undesignated funds or expending additional dollars — anywhere from $10,000 to $12,000, Leh estimated — just to obtain the loan.  That amount would include bank and attorney fees, plus interest, he said.  Or, he continued, the district might consider tapping about $12 million of the $15 million to get through the rest of the fiscal year.

Scranton school leader: Plan can increase achievement, decrease deficit
Times Tribune BY SARAH HOFIUS HALL Published: February 23, 2016
The future of the Scranton School District could include a math and science academy, consolidated schools and a smaller budget deficit.  Alexis Kirijan, Ed.D., presented a draft of the district’s vision, “Scranton One: Strategic Plan 2020,” to the school board’s education committee meeting Monday. The plan calls for transformation — from creating a curriculum that is rigorous and meaningful, to allocating resources to serve students best.  “Our hope is that the entire city joins with us in executing this plan,” she said.  Since her appointment as district leader nearly a year ago, Dr. Kirijan met with many school and community members, evaluated achievement and budgets and began the process of drafting the plan she calls a “road map.”  The “Scranton One” name reflects the idea that to best serve the students, “one system” and “one community” must work together to serve the number one focus, which are students.

Penn Hills schools audit shows nearly $10M shortfall
By Molly Born / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette February 23, 2016 12:00 AM
The Penn Hills School District’s audit for the 2014-15 school year showed a nearly $10 million shortfall, confirming expectations about its financial picture for that period.  The 2013-14 school year left the district nearly $9 million in debt, and its negative fund balance, or cumulative deficit, amounts to nearly $18.9 million for the year ending June 30, 2015, according to the audit findings.
The board last fall completed a bond issue approaching $20 million to cover that two-year debt total.  The school board acknowledged receipt of the audit at its regular board meeting Monday. The document will be posted on the district’s website this week.

Penn Hills proposes teacher layoffs, class cuts to help budget deficit
WTAE UPDATED 11:22 PM EST Feb 22, 2016
PENN HILLS, Pa. —The Penn Hills School Board voted 5-2 to send a budget cut proposal to the Pennsylvania Department of Education for approval before the board takes a final vote.  Penn Hills School District board members approved a controversial plan to borrow $18 million Wednesday night to pay for day-to-day expenses.  he district is facing a $13 million budget deficit in the last three years.  Teachers, students and taxpayers packed Linton Middle School's auditorium Monday night to fight the budget cuts which would include teacher layoffs.  When the meeting opened for public comment, the first citizen to speak said, "we're bleeding a lot of cash."
The cuts include roughly 25 classes such as art, science and special education.  It's not clear how many teachers would be affected if proposed program cuts are approved. The teachers union said they were blindsided by this.

NSBA and national groups call for increased investment in education
NSBA  on February 22, 2016    Charlotte Blane
The National School Boards Association today joined a group of over 660 organizations in a letter to the U.S. House and Senate Appropriations Committees expressing support of the Department of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education and related agencies, and calling for increased investments in the agencies’ programs and services in fiscal year 2017. The group cite several effects of underfunding these programs and urge lawmakers to put education and related programs first and increase the appropriations allocation.  “Despite their profound impact on health and well-being, child development, educational and skills attainment, and productivity, programs and services of the “Labor-HHS” spending bill continue to be short-changed in the annual appropriations process,” the group state in the letter. “Without an increase, it will be virtually impossible to meaningfully increase investment in important initiatives—without deep cuts in other equally important initiatives.”
For more information please read the letter in its entirety.

Under ESSA, Governors Should Guard States' Rights, Sen. Lamar Alexander Says
Education Week Politics K-12 Blog By Daarel Burnette II on February 21, 2016 10:33 PM
This post was written by Daarel Burnette II and originally posted in State EdWatch
Washington - In a spine-stiffening rallying cry, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate education committee, told dozens of governors gathered here Sunday to push back against any attempt by the federal government to shape education policy in the coming years.  The recently-passed Every Student Succeeds Act, which he helped author, gives governors and state legislators wide latitude to design their own teacher and school accountability systems, among other things, he said during the annual National Governors Association winter meeting.  "The federal government has defined power under this law," he said. "States have numerous and infinite power. We should adhere to the principles of federalism here."  The speech at the JW Marriott came just days before the Senate education committee is to hold a confirmation hearing for acting U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., who President Barack Obama has nominated to be secretary. "I urged him to appoint somebody and I told him I'd make sure he was confirmed," Alexander said.

National Benchmarks for State Achievement Standards
American Institutes for Research Report by Gary Phillips22 FEB 2016
State achievement standards represent how much the state expects their students to learn in order to reach various levels of academic proficiency. In the past, these achievement standards were used by each state to report adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind federal legislation, and are now being used for federal reporting under the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015.  This report uses national benchmarking as a common metric to examine state achievement standards and compare how high these standards are compared to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) achievement levels. The study also benchmarks the achievement standards of Smarter Balanced, PARCC, and ACT Aspire.

After 45 years of conservative rulings, here’s what a liberal Supreme Court would do
Washington Post By Linda Hirshman February 19 
Nothing separated the odd couple of the Supreme Court — the late Justice Antonin Scalia and his best buddy, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — more than their visions of the Constitution they both loved. Scalia saw the Constitution as a “dead” document, limited to the meaning of the original words at the moment the ink was dry, a moment when white, propertied men ruled. Ginsburg’s Constitution, by contrast, is the expansive charter of an evolving society. She celebrates “the extension (through amendment, judicial interpretation, and practice) of constitutional rights and protections to once ignored or excluded people: to humans who were once held in bondage, to men without property, to the original inhabitants of the land that became the United States, and to women.”  While Scalia’s originalism certainly has its disciples among conservatives, with his death, Ginsburg’s vision of a living Constitution becomes more likely to prevail. President Obama (or his successor) has a chance to appoint at least one more liberal to the Supreme Court. That would give the court a liberal majority for the first time since 1971. It would allow the court to resume the progressive push — on issues including school desegregation, reproductive rights, organized labor and voting rights — that stalled almost a half-century ago. It would enable a revival of a dramatically different role for the court: as an institution that drives social change instead of halting it.

How Meaty Are the Presidential Candidates' Online K-12 Positions?
Education Week Politics K12 By Andrew Ujifusa on February 22, 2016 10:48 AM
Nearly six months ago, we noted that for the most part, presidential candidates' websites were pretty skimpy when it came to education issues. Since that blog post, 12 Republican hopefuls and two Democrats have dropped out of the race. But as the remaining candidates have had a lot more time to beef up their ideas and plans for the online public, are they now more sumo wrestler or scarecrow?  We've checked back in with candidates' official campaign websites to see what they've put up about education. In addition, for this check-up, we've also scanned their Facebook pages since Sept. 1 of last year to see what, if anything, they've said about education.   This isn't a comprehensive look at all the forums where candidates might have mentioned education, including other places on the Internet and in debates (the results for the latter are pretty thin, though). But for these two major Internet sources, here is what we've found from each of the five remaining Republicans and the two remaining Democrats. Here's one interesting discovery: All the candidates except one have posted something education-related on their Facebook pages since September. So which one posted a goose egg? Read on. 

PA Legislature Joint public hearing-on Federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
PA House and Senate Education Committees
03/14/2016 10:30 AM Hearing Room #1 North Office Bldg

“Western Region Forum Series” – Thursday, February 25, 2016
Wyndham Pittsburgh University Center – 100 Lytton Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Continental Breakfast – 8:00 a.m. Program – 8:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
An Overview of the Proposed 2016-2017 State Budget and Education Issues Will Be Provided By:
Representative of The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center
Ron Cowell, President, The Education Policy and Leadership Center
Statewide and Regional Perspectives Will Be Provided By:
Karina Chavez
, Executive Director, Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education
Dr. Jeffrey Fuller
, Superintendent, Freedom Area School District
Cheryl Kleiman, Staff Attorney, Education Law Center
Nathan Mains, Executive Director, Pennsylvania School Boards Association
RSVP for the Pittsburgh forum by clicking here.
While there is no registration fee, seating is limited and an RSVP is required.

'Beyond Measure' to be shown Feb. 24 at Bucks County Community College
Bucks County Courier Times Joan Hellyer, staff writer Sunday, February 14, 2016 11:45 pm
The general public is invited to a free screening of "Beyond Measure," a documentary about education reform, on Feb. 24 at Bucks County Community College, organizers said.  The movie, from Vicki Abeles, director of the award-winning film "Race to Nowhere," begins at 7 p.m. in the Zlock Performing Arts Center on the BCCC campus at 275 Swamp Road in Newtown Township.
In "Beyond Measure," Abeles examines public schools across the country that are working to "create a more equitable, empowering, student-centered education culture from the ground up," event organizers said.  The college’s Department of Social and Behavioral Science, Future Teachers Organization, and Amy McIntyre, founder of the Council Rock Parents Facebook page, are sponsoring the free event.  Register online at tinyurl.com/BCCCBeyondMeasure. For more information call 215-504-8545 or send an email to Kate.DAuria@bucks.edu.

Blogger note: this conference is SOLD OUT
Attend the United Opt Out Conference in Philadelphia February 26-28
United Opt Out: The Movement to End Corporate Reform will hold its annual conference on Philadelphia from February 26-28.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center will host its Annual Budget Summit on Thursday, March 3, 2016 9:00 - 3:30 at the Hilton Harrisburg.
PA Budget and Policy Center website
Join us for an in-depth look at the Governor's 2016-17 budget proposal, including what it means for education, health and human services, and local communities. The Summit will focus on the leading issues facing the commonwealth in 2016, with workshops, lunch, and a legislative panel discussion.  Space is limited, so fill out the form below to reserve your spot at the Budget Summit.
Thursday, March 3, 2016 Hilton Hotel, Harrisburg Pennsylvania
The event is free, but PBPC welcomes donations of any size to help off-set costs.

PASBO 61st Annual Conference and Exhibits March 8 - 11, 2016
Hershey Lodge and Convention Center, Hershey, Pennsylvania

PenSPRA's Annual Symposium, Friday April 8th in Shippensburg, PA
PenSPRA, or the Pennsylvania School Public Relations Association, has developed a powerhouse line-up of speakers and topics for a captivating day of professional development in Shippensburg on April 8th. Learn to master data to defeat your critics, use stories to clarify your district's brand and take your social media efforts to the next level with a better understanding of metrics and the newest trends.  Join us the evening before the Symposium for a “Conversation with Colleagues” from 5 – 6 pm followed by a Networking Social Cocktail Hour from 6 – 8 pm.  Both the Symposium Friday and the social events on Thursday evening will be held at the Shippensburg University Conference Center. Snacks at the social hour, and Friday’s breakfast and lunch is included in your registration cost. $125 for PenSPRA members and $150 for non-members. Learn more about our speakers and topics and register today at this link:

The Network for Public Education 3rd Annual National Conference April 16-17, 2016 Raleigh, North Carolina.
The Network for Public Education is thrilled to announce the location for our 3rd Annual National Conference. On April 16 and 17, 2016 public education advocates from across the country will gather in Raleigh, North Carolina.  We chose Raleigh to highlight the tremendous activist movement that is flourishing in North Carolina. No one exemplifies that movement better than the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, who will be the conference keynote speaker. Rev. Barber is the current president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, the National NAACP chair of the Legislative Political Action Committee, and the founder of Moral Mondays.

2016 PA Educational Leadership Summit July 24-26 State College
Summit Sponsors: PA Principals Association - PA Association of School Administrators - PA Association of Middle Level Educators - PA Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development 
The 2016 Educational Leadership Summit, co-sponsored by four leading Pennsylvania education associations, provides an excellent opportunity for school district administrative teams and instructional leaders to learn, share and plan together at a quality venue in "Happy Valley." 
Featuring Grant Lichtman, author of EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education, Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera (invited), and Dana Lightman, author of POWER Optimism: Enjoy the Life You Have... Create the Success You Want, keynote speakers, high quality breakout sessions, table talks on hot topics and district team planning and job alike sessions provides practical ideas that can be immediately reviewed and discussed at the summit before returning back to your district.   Register and pay by April 30, 2016 for the discounted "early bird" registration rate:

Interested in letting our elected leadership know your thoughts on education funding, a severance tax, property taxes and the budget?
Governor Tom Wolf, (717) 787-2500

Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Turzai, (717) 772-9943
House Majority Leader Rep. Dave Reed, (717) 705-7173
Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Joe Scarnati, (717) 787-7084
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Jake Corman, (717) 787-1377

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